editor’s note: You can listen to a minisode podcast referencing this article, links and embeds are at the end of the article for your listening pleasure.
A few years ago, after quitting smoking for the very last time – really it is and was the last time – my body went haywire. The detox from the nicotine wasn’t an issue for me mentally. I had quit a few times before for several years at a time. But my body was trying to flush out the poison and it was struggling to do so. I was getting older and my body required more energy, more effort and more time to rebound.
My gut health was messed up. I’m going to go all out here and share with you too much information as gracefully as possible. I was backed up, clogged-up. This was something new for me. My entire life, including the previous years of non-smoking, I never had issues with digestion and elimination. The poisons couldn’t find a way out and I was feeling like shit. Ummm yup…. literally…..
This time it wasn’t just the end of cigs, that winter was icy and I don’t run on ice. I stopped running. Stopping running basically meant that I stopped working out. I used to run from my apartment to my city’s Central Park and back, 8k or 5 miles round trip times 5 times each week. I found my way back to doing some home aerobic workouts but only periodically so my fitness level was decreasing and my weight and clothes size increased slightly.
Inevitably, stopping running and stopping smoking simultaneously meant that I wasn’t taking deep breaths (even if some of them were with nicotine and chemicals.) I basically stopped breathing.
Fast forward one year to the big five-o. That was the year – 50 – when ‘the menopause’ came upon me like a hurricane. The hormonal changes hit me like a fucking ton of bricks. ‘The menopause’ said to me “I am going to fuck with your hormones!” and she did.Becoming anything doesn’t happen overnight. Click To Tweet
I tried yoga again in the fall just before my 50th birthday but I was dizzy and felt worse every time I practised. My body was still toxic and menopause was taking its toll. The beneficial effects of a movement practice made me feel worse, much worse, it seemed like something like the equivalent of a healing crisis. Now I have to say, had I continued running or performing other physical exercises more consistently and regularly certainly it would’ve been much better for me. I might’ve had some of the swings but in hindsight know that it wouldn’t have been so bad. But no regrets, this was the life I led so far and here I was – I relinquished smoking that was a start. (I mention it here so if you are moving towards that age or any age just don’t stop working out – ever!)
That’s when my mid-section became extremely swollen with inflammation. Yes, I had fat too and still do (although yoga has toned my muscles and ‘uplifts’ not only my mind but my belly fat). My clothes size increased during this period and at the end of a 2 year period, my clothing size increased by 4 sizes – FUCK!
For goodness sake, I didn’t drink soda – regular or diet, alcohol or eat processed foods – I don’t even really like sweets! In fact, I like really healthy good for you food in general. That sucked but what made it worse was besides not feeling well, I didn’t have a budget to replenish and replace an entire wardrobe, compounding my feelings of shame as now I was stuffing my body in clothes that were too small for me.
So I bought a few sale items when I could and one of my neighbours who is a few years older than me, shared some older clothes she had to wear when she went through a similar experience. I am grateful to her since without those clothes it would’ve been worse for me mentally.
Over a period of months, my self-esteem was plummeting and there was an end to an important relationship in my life which served to exacerbate the problem. Monthly periods were replaced with monthly migraine headaches that put me out of commission from anywhere from a few days to an entire week at a time, and the weight gain in my mid-section increased. I stopped working out altogether feeling too sick to move – I was dizzy a lot.
My blood pressure was down to some insane number that was bordering on ‘you can’t be alive with these numbers’ and WTF.
The truth is that menopause was a subject that I wanted to avoid as I was going through it.
There are so many stereotypes and unrealistic expectations for women, childbearing, desirability, etc. It’s like you are a woman/sexual being one day and then BAM, KABOOM you are a swollen body that is tired, experiencing symptoms that you might not have expected including body odour changes and one of the most common ones is to gain weight in your mid-section.
I knew to expect some changes from menopause but that subject really was never discussed directly with me. Yes, there would maybe be hot flashes, irregular periods and hormonal swings but no one really ever said, ‘Hey this is what to expect when you begin and go through menopause.’ I only had some memories of my mother going through it when I was in High School but that was 33 years before I started menopause.
Back then it wasn’t something that was spoken about either and it was in some ways it was more horrific in the 70s and 80s. Back then they just cut you up and threw away your insides as they performed hysterectomies regularly.
There are many symptoms of menopause and I digress here for a moment to tell you that I’ve even created an infographic listing them in case no one tells you either. It’s linked at the bottom of the page.
The physical symptoms are one thing but the emotional ones just -> UGH! I started to experience shame around my body. I didn’t want to be seen in public running or doing anything for that matter. I could handle the hot flashes even though they were intense. I was used to sweating a lot when working out so it was whacky but bearable. Culturally and personally there is a lot of shame around the loss of youth.
It’s not just all in my head. There are data and statistics to back me up. Yet, throughout my life, I never looked at another woman of any age and thought about her sexual health. It never occurred to me and never is something that I would think about. I see a person. A whole person who might be youthful or not. That actually makes me wonder why my ego thinks other people look at me and judge me and even if they do, why do I care?
Here I was going through a transformation that could’ve been viewed as a treasure, after all, I was now becoming a crone. So, even though some women might embrace this, the crone, still, is often depicted as an old hag or witch.
Becoming [anything] doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a process to experience and go through. I was going through a metamorphosis to become a new me, a new life as I was moving from one stage of life to the next. Instead of embracing it, I felt like the cockroach in Kafka’s Metamorphosis.
Although Gregor Samsa was unphased by his own transformation, those around him were shocked and ashamed, whereas here it was my own shame. Why did I expect to be the repulsed, unwanted, dull brown cockroach? Why not expect to become the richly coloured moth or butterfly? I didn’t want to be fatter and duller and underappreciated or loathed – cockroaches are survivors but pretty much cringe-worthy.
All of these feelings and emotions were mine.
All of these feelings and emotions were mine. I take responsibility for them. Still, they were and are influenced by the high gloss magazines and social media images of an ideal or even simply something I’m not. Why am I comparing myself to anyone anyway?
What if I were to be the butterfly or the moth? I think their insect eggs and cocoons are prettier. How messed up is that to judge the beauty of cocoons? Cocoons of any kind, generally speaking, aren’t that pretty to begin with – even butterfly and moth cocoons. The truth is whether it is a roach or a butterfly, the process of transformation and rebirth is a miracle.
Some days the level of self-loathing was simply out of control and other days I didn’t feel well enough to actually care and on the rare occasion, there were days where I could care less. The days that I could care less were days that I didn’t have to really go out except to walk the dogs.
Since I already ate really healthy foods, something else had to change so I began to take some natural herbs to heal my body. These weren’t all directly related to hormonal balance or menopause, although I did try some supplements said to ease symptoms they didn’t really do much. I started adding wheatgrass powder to my morning smoothie or yoghurt and started taking some supplements with magnesium to help with nutrient absorption. In addition, I started drinking Golden Milk, a hot drink made with turmeric, coconut milk and black pepper. This was a step in the right direction and I started to feel better.
Fast forward to December 2015, I made my 2nd attempt to restart my yoga practice again. This time my muscles woke up and said –
‘We will support you and lift up your fat.’
Even if it wasn’t quite visible, they did. Then, my mind-body began to speak to me.
Oftentimes when practising yoga thoughts don’t usually pass through my head because my focus is on the pose. When they do they are more meaningful than random. This came –
‘I am not this body.’
I have always known that concept to be true, understanding that we are a life force beyond the fleshy suit we wear as animals on this planet. Be that as it may, we don’t live in the esoteric ethereal world. We live in a concrete world where people co-exist and whole communities of them create societies and they have expectations – even if some of them are unrealistic ones.
In the outer world, in this concrete reality, we are limited by our experience of life in a body that is categorized into gender, skin tone, nationality, etc. Our identities create separation. This is me. That is you. It’s a survival mechanism informed by instinct, we are after all herd animals.
Me, I consider myself a white woman of both Western European and Eastern European descent. I am an entrepreneur. I am an artist. I am an editor and producer. I am a yogini – I am this. I am that. Not you?
Belonging to a particular group can feel comforting and provide us with a sense of belonging even though it simultaneously reinforces the idea of separateness and identity, as it creates a sense of community. Artists, poets, philosophers, gurus, amongst others, are just some of the people the world over who have been trying to unravel these ideas and bring them into other forms reminding us to question the very identities we create. Because the division can feel alienating too.
Am I good enough? Comparison is the phantom lurking behind the curtain. How did it become that I would compare myself to not others but a former version of myself?
Even our experience of the concrete world is shadowed not only by our other bodies (aspects) like the emotional-body and mind-body but by the physical bodies limitations with a set range on the auditory sound and visual light spectrums, etc. Those limitations won’t allow for transcendent experience without some effort.
Epictetus – “He is a man of sense who does not grieve for what he has not, but rejoices in what he has.”
I am not this body is a tenet of many spiritual teachings really refer to different aspects of one body. Amongst the many metaphysical teachings about the various ‘bodies’ depending on the teachings, the number varies, in Vedanta, there are three and in Theosophy, seven. There are many other teachings too and some claim four or ten or any number.
In recent years I’ve taken it quite literally as a coping mechanism. We have what some refer to many bodies but they are aspects of ourselves such as the etheric body or any one of the several ‘bodies’ that are spoken about. This is about the practical application of that idea and about the fact that my living in a physical body that has changed itself through life is my current reality.
This July 2018 the focus on Conscious Life Space is about the body, body shame, health, menopause and all that good stuff. #bodyimage #fatyoga My mini #vlog series of 5 parts – all short vids is coming to you over the next week or so and mostly it’s of me exposing my NOT ‘yoga’ body doing yoga.
Am I confusing life itself with my physical body? The suit isn’t the experience. It allows for the experience to take place here and now. When I am [you too] attached to our physical bodies we can fall into judgement and can go too far harming ourselves by denying ourselves experience as we feel ashamed or critical. Contra, if we then go to the other extreme on a spiritual path becoming ungrounded we can miss out on experiences right here and right now on our little rocket ship in the sky planet Earth.
You can find the menopause symptoms infographic here. Share your experience or ask questions in the comments.
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